VAT On Print – A Challenging Area

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So is VAT chargeable on printed matter? Hold on to your hats, that’s not the simple question it might appear to be! We’ve done some in-depth research into what is zero-rated and what is standard rated when it comes to VAT on print. It’s often a confusing picture, dependent upon both content and proposed use.

Here are a few useful guidelines. If in doubt, talk to us and we’ll try to explain!

So, what’s what?

Books and booklets

All ‘books and booklets’ are zero-rated. In short, this means anything containing text and/or illustrations, bound in a cover which is a heavier material than the pages. Think literary works, directories, catalogues, schoolbooks, and even loose-leaf manuals with or without binders and later updates to manuals. Schoolbooks too.

Interestingly though, most books of plans or drawings are not zero rated, nor are stamp albums (unless no more than 25% of the content is dedicated to space for mounting stamps and the remainder is reading matter). These items are subject to the standard rate of VAT. Other book-like items such as diaries and address books, which are really stationery materials, are also standard rated for VAT.

Brochures and pamphlets

These are typically zero rated for VAT, but again it’s not clear, as the government’s own website states that “whether a particular product qualifies as a brochure or pamphlet is a matter of fact and impression.”

Here are the facts. A brochure usually consists of several sheets of reading matter, either fastened or folded, usually with advertising material. A pamphlet is a little more difficult to define, but would be expected to contain “material of a political, social or intellectual nature”.

Single sheet leaflets and folders with inserts can also be zero rated but they must convey information, contain a significant amount of text, have not been designed to hold other items and be supplied in a complete form.

There are exceptions too

Please note that although it may look like a brochure, if it’s designed to be detached, or has lots of areas to be filled in by the recipient, then it will be standard rated – less than 25% needs to be blank and used for completion for the item to be zero rated. Whatever the content, if the item has been designed to be returned after completion then it is officially a form and is standard rated.

Still with us?

So, journals and periodicals, whether specialised or general in nature, are also zero rated for VAT. They can be a combination of reading matter, advertising and illustrations. Children’s picture books are also zero rated, no matter what substrate they’re printed on, and this includes colouring books, dot-to-dot books, painting and activity books.

Unless, of course, they’re classed as a toy – such as books with models for cutting out and pages with boards for games, which are standard rated.

Careful though –if the content is deemed not suitable for children under 18 (depicting profanity, pornography, violence or illegal acts) then they’re subject to standard rate VAT!

Music and maps

Over to music, and printed, duplicated or manuscript music is all zero rated, be it instrumental, bound and/or illustrated. However, music rolls and blank music manuscripts are both standard rated.

Maps, charts and similar items are all zero rated, depicting countries, cities, stars and planets, whatever material they are printed on. This includes atlas books. But plans and commercial drawings are standard rated, as are framed decorative maps, posters, wall charts, aerial photographs, 3D models such as globes and decorative items printed as scarves and tea towels are all standard rated.

It’s not such a simple topic, is it? Here are some of the anomalies!

Some items which may appear to be standard rated can be zero rated where they’re being supplied to charitable organisations. Posters and stationery items are always standard rated. So-called ‘vanity publishing’ is usually zero rated.

But remember – some printed items which may appear to be zero rated are, in fact, standard rated if they’re also used as admissions vouchers for an event, or if your item has been designed to be written on, such as certificated and postcards – but only where this area covers 25% or more of the total area.

Here’s our quick look guide to some popular printed items and their VAT status. There are often exceptions as you can see from the information above, but this is typically how we rate our products.

Standard Rate VAT On Print

  • Business stationery
  • Business cards
  • Compliment slips
  • Letterheads
  • Most stationery items such as address books and diaries
  • Badges
  • Binders
  • Calendars
  • Certificates
  • Delivery Notes
  • Invoices
  • Envelopes
  • Greetings Cards
  • Memo Pads
  • Menu Cards
  • Note Books, Pads and Paper
  • Order Books and Forms

Zero rated for VAT On Print

  • Leaflets
  • Booklets  
  • Brochures
  • Books
  • Catalogues
  • Sports programmes
  • Instruction Manuals
  • Price lists
  • Timetables
  • Travel Brochures

It’s obvious that VAT on print is a bit of a minefield. Sports programmes are zero-rated, but stickers are (usually!) standard rated. Timetables and travel brochures are zero rated, but wills and wrapping paper are standard rated. There’s often no quick answer to the question, but we’ll always find out for you!

More to explore

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